19 October 2009
Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 14)
How were the men who hijacked and commandeered four commercial jetliners on 9/11/2001 able to conquer what I can only assume was their innate, very human immediate fear of heights and death, disregarding whatever love of life they might have had and aim the planes they were flying into buildings on the ground and certain death?
One conventional, somewhat simplistic answer making the rounds after the attacks of 9/11/2001 was that "they hate America." That may have been the case. Hatred is a strong emotion. Hatred of the 'other' is a species of misanthropy which, as I noted earlier, is a symptom of a deeper malady: distrust, fear. The 'other' is out to get me. If you are not with me, you are against me. Me against my brother, my brother and me against my family, my family against the clan, my clan against my tribe, my tribe against my race, my race against my nation, my nation against the world. Or something to that effect. But, it is too facile to ascribe such a simplistic emotion to people who put together such an involved plot that included their own destruction. An entire plot was hatched, plotted in minute detail, funded, and executed. It was an act of war, futile in many respects, but war nonetheless. Embattlement seems insufficient.
Many have pointed to the alleged reward of the martyrs as the motivating factor behind the pilots and their accomplices: 72 full-breasted, black-eyed virgins and lots of wine and a place in paradise. The carrot to the stick. It supplies a spiritual motive, of sorts, to their actions. But this somewhat caricatured version ascribes base, sexual motives to the pilots' spirituality. There is some dispute as to the precise translation of the boons of the Islamic paradise of the martyrs. But it bears noting that imputing the motive of sexual and sensual pleasure to the terrorists' religiosity effectively serves to demean them in Puritanical, Protestant American eyes.
Translation issues aside, this view that suicide bombers and terrorists are motivated by dreams of some sort of paradise seems to have some grounding in fact. It is not unprecedented in the Western Christian tradition: consider the promises to the early Crusaders that death in the struggle to liberate the Holy Land from Saracens would bring remission of their sins and admittance to heaven.
Clearly, though, paradise is meant to be a better place. Better than what? we might ask. Better than this place. Better than this life.
They are led to disdain this world and the things of this world which, presumably, includes themselves. Ashamed of their lot in life, ashamed of themselves, blame must be laid. And America looms large as a convenient target for their hatred—and fear.
Overcoming this fallen world, overcoming the shameful self, is the first step to conquering the instinct of self-preservation. Why preserve what you have been convinced you should be ashamed of? Why fear the loss of this fallen, shame-laden life?
Death is a doorway to a better place, a more acceptable self. To stature. To pleasure. To love. To pride. Thyraphobia is a bad thing, a sign of weakness or cowardice in the warrior—spiritual and physical. The suicider need not fear this door. The terrorist is eternally welcome on the other side of this door. If he goes through this door, his abased life will not have been in vain.
Fear—the pure, raw, immediate feeling I felt as I stared down two miles to the drop zone—is thus thoroughly expunged by convincing the victim (yes let's call him a victim) that his life is shameful and miserable, and that he can escape that lowly misery by overcoming his fears of heights and dying. He is convinced that the source of all his misery is not only his enemy, but the enemy of his brother, his family, his clan, his tribe, his race, his nation, his civilization. He has a duty to screw his courage to the sticking place, overcome this paltry fear, and go through that doorway to the glories of martyrdom.
Anger, hatred, shame, and fear: every warlord—whether it is Osama bin Laden or Dick Cheney, Ho Chi Minh or LBJ, Adolf Hitler or Winston Churchill, Saladin or Richard the Lionhearted, Alexander the Great or Darius III, Xerxes the Great or Themistocles—must master the art of manipulating these emotions in the hearts of his warriors and his people. It is an ancient art and, thus, an effective one because these emotions are so profound, so deeply central to who we are as human beings.
(to be continued)